The Cardboard Project: Starting A Conversation About Homelessness

I got to chat with Janet McParland, one of the founders of the Cardboard Project, to learn more about the project and their message.

What is the Cardboard Project?

The Cardboard Project started out as part of a project for an MIT class but has become so much bigger! It is an initiative aiming to highlight and correct the negative misconceptions and stigmas surrounding homelessness in our community. Our goal is to confront and start a conversation about our uninformed and unfair prejudices regarding homelessness through education and awareness. Essentially, it is a campaign to force people to realize that their negative misconceptions are not based on any real fact and that they do little else than breed hate and classism. We have spoken with people who have experienced homelessness, are currently homeless, and people who will likely never have to worry about the possibility of being without a home.

We have discussed where our harmful assumptions come from and why they are harmful to these people, and from that have created a massive collage of signs with admissions of guilt on them, such as “I make an effort to NOT acknowledge people on the street,” or “I automatically assume they are on drugs and it is their own fault they are where they are.” Not only are these things often misinformed or untrue but also imply that someone in that situation is unequal and unworthy of basic human decency. These are the types of mindsets that we want people to be conscious of.

The Cardboard Project ultimately aims to get people to treat other people, regardless of their situation, with kindness and compassion. If we could all be a little more empathetic we could really change the way social issues such as homelessness are dealt with. Operating under an “us vs. them” attitude is NEVER productive. Homelessness is not a “given,” and there are tried and true solutions in place in other parts of the country (i.e. Medicine Hat). We think changing the way we, the public, approach the issue is the first step towards systematic change.


How did you guys come up with the idea?

We came up with the idea when we were discussing project topics. We started doing some research and realized how we were guilty of perpetuating this problem and wanted to try and show other people how our complacency is problematic! We kind of just ran with it from there!

What have you guys been doing to promote the Cardboard Project?

We have put up posters around London on pieces of cardboard (the same style you expect from people panhandling on the streets), as well as approached tons of people and asked them about their thoughts on homelessness. We have gotten a lot of “I know this is bad but….” Or people who were too embarrassed to respond, which I think is really the point! We have an Instagram account (@thecardboardprojectldn) that we try to tie everything back to in case anyone has follow-up questions and so people can follow along with the project.

How can people help on an ongoing basis?

We have been working in conjunction with The Unity Project for the relief of homelessness in London and are collecting donations of cereal and feminine hygiene products for them, so if anyone wants to donate you can contact us via Instagram or Facebook! People can also help, as previously mentioned, simply by being conscious of the way they treat people on the streets and the assumptions they make. We understand that we can’t be die-hard activists, but by changing our mindsets we can support those who dedicate so much time and effort to promoting real change with regards to solving homelessness. Even if you can’t afford to give some food or money to someone asking, just acknowledge their existence and be kind!

Do you plan to continue the project into the summer/next year?

We do! We are going to continue being active on Instagram after the chaos of exams dies down, as well as volunteering our time with The Unity Project. We have been contacted by people in other cities about spreading the message which is pretty cool! I have also been in contact with Willie Baronet, an activist from Texas, who has been working on a project promoting the same ideology as us for a number of years called “We Are All Homeless.”  He has done multiple TEDx talks and his work is incredible! I am hoping to maybe organize having him set up his installation and do a talk here at Western next year!


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